With 11 million young Africans without a job and millions more considered to be “working poor”, youth unemployment threatens the continent’s economic growth prospects.

But while entrepreneurship is seen as a silver bullet for out-of-work young people in Africa, it will not be possible to build a business-orientated workforce without support, participants agreed at an event in Dakar, Senegal, on 13–14 November.

What type of support was needed, and the challenges experienced by young people, were key talking points at the two-day Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment (YES) Forum, co-organized by UNCTAD.

Fiorina Mugione, UNCTAD’s entrepreneurship chief, said the UN trade and development body would work together more closely in West Africa to facilitate and advance the promotion of youth business skills and employment.

Youth Entrepreneurship
“We believe that the young people on the most youth-populous continent in the world can also respond to the call to action made in the Sustainable Development Goals for economic transformation,” Ms. Mugione said.

“They can develop, promote and consume new products to market, to transform the way energy, water, food, health, and education is produced, distributed and consumed.”

Practical and relevant policy and access to finance, markets, networks, knowledge and skills were identified as the main areas for joint action.

Lending a hand

Ms. Mugione explained that UNCTAD is committed to supporting young entrepreneurs with its youth policy guide series, and initiatives such as the Empretec programme.

It recently released the 2018 Policy Guide on Entrepreneurship for Migrants and Refugees, an effort preceded by its seminal 2015 Policy Guide on Youth Entrepreneurship.

Both UNCTAD policy guides were used as basis for discussions at the YES Forum.

The Forum’s opening session tackled the role regulatory hurdles and limits to financial access play in inhibiting young people’s ability to innovate.

In calling for better support structures for young businesspeople, Finda Komora, Vice-Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission said: “The bird cannot fly with one wing – the youth need our help and we need to accompany them.”

This was echoed by Aminata Kouyaté, National Director of Youth Employment in Guinea, who said young people – and particularly young women – must be reassured.

“It is not obvious for a young person to become an entrepreneur. It is offered as a solution, but it should be facilitated through certain measures,” she said.

“Entrepreneurship is one of the responses to combat youth employment. We need to encourage them to be self-confident. The mindset needs to be changed. Equality of chances grows with training and skills.”

Africa’s young population should be viewed as an opportunity and not a challenge, Martin Ruvugabigwi, President of Commonwealth Associations of Young Entrepreneurs said, but they needed support.

“If you speak alone, you won’t be heard. We need to engage with governments and make sure that their policies allow access to finance and markets,” he said.

The session highlighted partnership as crucial to the success of policy implementation. Lamin Darboe, Executive Director of The Gambia’s National Youth Council, said it was a struggle to implement entrepreneurship policies in the region.

“The young population of The Gambia should be at the centre. This does not mean that young people are only the beneficiaries – they must be partners, as people who have the skills and competences to drive processes connected to employment and youth policies.”

Decent jobs declaration

Participants at the forum committed to scaling up action and impact for youth entrepreneurship and self-employment in West Africa and beyond, by sharing a declaration inspired by the United Nations Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.

“This declaration is a call for action for all stakeholders and partners to join forces to make change happen. Some of the key issues in the declaration are youth-led businesses and value creation,” Ms. Mugione said.

“The declaration also engages young girls, the rural population and other vulnerable groups.

“With support for young entrepreneurs delivered through UNCTAD’s Empretec programme – now 30 years old and one of the oldest and most impactful entrepreneurship capacity building programmes in the world – we stand ready to support the initiative,” she added.

The YES Forum gathered policymakers, young entrepreneurs, social partners, civil society, private sector actors, and financial and business-support service providers, as well as international and regional institutions.

It was a featured event in Global Entrepreneurship Week, co-organized by the partners in the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth including:

International Labour Organization (ILO)
International Trade Centre (ITC)
United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
The evented was hosted in collaboration with the:

Government of Senegal
Agence Nationale pour la Promotion de l’Emploi des Jeunes (ANPEJ)
Agence Sénégalaise de Promotion des Exportations (ASEPEX),
Government of Spain
Government of Luxembourg
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Planning and Coordination Agency
Jokkolabs – host of Global Entrepreneurship Week in Senegal.

Source: United Nations